You are Going to Die. An Ash Wednesday Reflection

Maryanne Pope (7th Birthday) Nancy Pope Nancy Geiman in 1967
Maryanne Pope (7th Birthday) Nancy Pope Nancy Geiman in 1967

At today’s Ash Wednesday Masses we hear the ancient acclamation, as ashes are imposed: Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.

Today’s  beginning of the Lenten season puts before us an urgent plea that we should be sober and watchful of our soul and its condition, for the form of this world is passing away (1 Cor 7:31).

Simply put, we are going to die and we need to be made ready to meet our God. Recall some of the urgency present in the readings:

  1. Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart…..
  2. Sound the trumpet in Zion!
  3. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God!
  4. Behold, now is the day of salvation.

Yes, Now, not later. There is an urgency announced that we must hear and heed.

What’s in a picture? The Picture at the upper right was taken April 2, 1967. It was my sister, Mary Anne’s 7th birthday. Ash Wednesday morning the picture appeared on my screen-saver slideshow and I thought, “There it is, a picture of passing things.” For, as you look at the picture know this, there is absolutely nothing and no one in the picture that is still here in this world today. My sister who is blowing out the candles died in 1991, tragically in a fire. My mother who leans over her died in 2005 (also tragically). My maternal Grandmother, who is seated died of cancer in the late 1970s. But that is not all. This building in which the picture was taken was demolished 8 years ago. My Father who is taking the picture died in 2007. The Polaroid camera with which he took the photo is long gone as well. There is simply nothing in this picture that any longer exists in this world, and there is no one in the photo who still walks this earth. Yes, the form of this world is passing away. Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.

The Church’s reminder to us is a strong rejoinder to most of our priorities. Most of the things we think are so important, are not really that important in the long run. Most of the things that claim our attention are not all that critical either. We like Martha, are anxious about many things. We worry about our money, our house, our car, our physical health, how we look, what people think of us, and so forth. But none of this really matters all that much in the end. All these things pass.

But what about what really does matter? What of our soul and its well being? What of our direction? Is it heavenward? What are we doing with our life? Where are we headed? Do we know God, love and serve him? Are our eyes on the prize of God and heaven? These things get little attention in most people’s lives. The unessential and passing things are our passion, and the most essential and critical things are all but ignored.

In Lent the Church says stop. Be thoughtful and earnest. You are going to die. What are you doing to get ready to meet God? Your body and the things of this world are but dust, a mere passing reality. But what of your soul? Are you caring for your soul? Is it nourished on God’s Word and Holy Communion? Are the medicines of prayer, Scripture, Sacraments and holy fellowship (cf Acts 2:24) being applied so that your soul stands a chance?

Remember…..REMEMBER……you are dust, you are going to die. Get ready. Now is the time, be earnest about it. Be thoughtful and live a reflective life that considers carefully what your decisions amount to, where you are headed, what your life means. Too many people live unreflected lives, never thinking much on these things. But not you. You have heard the trumpet sound in Zion and the Church has implored you. Will you listen? Will I? Where are you going? Where will you be when the last trumpet sounds?

Immutemur habitu in cinere et cilicio; jejunemus, et ploremus ante Dominum; quia multum misericors est dimittere peccata nostra Deus noster.

Let us change our garments for ashes and sackcloth; let us fast and lament before the Lord; for our God is plentious in mercy to forgive our sins.

5 Replies to “You are Going to Die. An Ash Wednesday Reflection”

  1. Thank you Msgr Pope for your words. Yes I am going to die and the Church wants to make sure we are ready. But you in particular , makes me reflect in my own mortality, it will happen : accident, disease,homicide, plain old age ???? Only our Lord knows… I don’t and I need to be ready.
    As a catechumen, I am eager to my first confession . My conscience weights heavily. I need freedom and hope.
    Peace and Blessings.

  2. Great post, Father. I am sorry for your losses. How do you feel about “Repent and believe in the Gospel”? I always prefer hearing the starker “… unto ash thou shalt return,” but that might just be me.

  3. Great to have you back on air, Msgr – I couldn’t get your site for the last 3 days and I’ve felt the loss keenly during this Lenten period! Your words are spot on as ever – God give us strength to turn to the true realities and put everything else aside!

  4. Cece, I will pray for you each and every day. I was confirmed at the Easter Vigil March 31, 2002. Hang in there my dear, it will be rough and sometimes you might want to quit, but just hold on to His hand and trust Him. He will not let you go, no matter how hopeless you feel, He will NEVER let you go. (I almost called off my confirmation Holy Saturday morning because I thought the whole confirmation thing was silly, and then suddenly nothing could stop me from receiving that “silly” confirmation.)
    Peace and Blessings on you.

  5. As I watched an EWTN memorial on the passing of Deacon Steitlemier (sp?), I pondered often on a life worth living as his apparently was and how I’ve wasted endless hours and days of my life. Mathew 25 puts the fear of God in me. Your sober reflections give me inspiration; keep telling it like it is.

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